The great Johann Kuhnau is dead. Who will replace him as organist of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche? Even if the title of Itamar Moses’s play didn’t reveal the answer, neither you nor I nor 99.99998 percent of human beings alive today could possibly care, which is only the first of the innumerable things wrong with this over-touted attempt to create a second Tom Stoppard, in a world where one, for theatrical purposes, already constitutes an oversupply.
If Moses had held true to his premise, and written a play that actually explored the life of church organists and Kapellmeistern in 18th-century Germany, either seriously or comically, he might have supplied something we could find ourselves caring about, to our surprise. Instead, he’s written another in what bodes ill to become a new phony genre, subtracting more energy from our already enfeebled art form: the skit with elephantiasis—five minutes of let’s-trash-history slapstick, decked out with pseudo-meaningful discussions till it bloats into a lethal full evening. New York Theatre Workshop, where this mode of theatrical cyanide is apparently becoming an annual feature, has as usual squandered an attractive physical production and the services of a large number of fine actors (relentlessly overdirected by Pam MacKinnon) on this time-wasting nonsense.